Today's Nantucket

Raising Funds to Keep Cancer Care Local on Nantucket Island

Swim Across America Nantucket event chairs Jill Roethke and Jim Pignato are helping to keep cancer care local on Nantucket.  The very first Swim Across America Nantucket swim took place back in 1991, but it wasn’t until Swim Across America’s 25th anniversary in 2012, that the swim came back to the island on an annual basis and Jill and Jim participated.  For the past nine years, Jill and Jim have helped the charity swim raise more than $3.4 million to support on-island cancer treatment and patient care at Nantucket Cottage Hospital (NCH) and Palliative and Supportive Care of Nantucket.  The charity swim has been a game-changer for Nantucket residents.

“As a result of the Swim Across America Nantucket event, patients now receive treatments and see world-class oncologists on-island at the Swim Across America Infusion Center, instead of having to travel to the mainland for these services.  It has made a huge difference for those facing cancer on Nantucket,” said Jill Roethke, co-event director of the Swim Across America Nantucket swim.

With the collaboration between the Mass General Hospital (MGH) Cancer Center and NCH’s oncology department, patients are able to receive an academic level of care in a rural community hospital.  The MGH link brings access to breakthrough, state of the art technologies, drug therapies, and clinical trials that would not be available to a rural community hospital.  The program also brings a team of cancer specialists to the island every week for patient consultations. In addition, a board certified advanced practice oncology registered nurse is on-site to see cancer patients five days a week. Services, including chemotherapy, are performed at the Swim Across America Infusion Center at NCH.

In addition to the on-island cancer treatments now available, thanks to Swim Across America Nantucket, the event also provides funding for the Palliative and Supportive Care of Nantucket Program.  This program provides direct care and services to patients and families coping with cancer. Care is provided through a nurse practitioner, a part time APRN oncology nurse practitioner, palliative care counselors, social workers, program assistant, chaplain, medical director, and volunteers, and is provided in any setting. Cancer support groups are also conducted twice a month.  Services are provided free of charge and are fully supported through donations and grants.  PASCON staff works directly with the NCH oncology staff to ensure the needs of all patients are being met.

Jill and Jim’s involvement with Swim Across America stems from personal experience with family members who were impacted by cancer. Jim first got involved with Swim Across America in 1991 at a swim clinic run by Swim Across America national. Jim’s mother is a breast cancer survivor, and he lost his father after a five-year battle with colon cancer in 2013.  At the 25th anniversary swim on Nantucket that brought the two co-event directors together, Jill was participating in the event in honor of her husband Steve, who had recently been diagnosed with Stage 3 melanoma.  After that year, Jill and Jim knew they wanted to get more involved with the Swim Across America organization and jumped on board to make Swim Across America Nantucket an annual event.  Almost ten years and $3.4 million later, the two have been instrumental in the cancer landscape on Nantucket.

“Having family members who have endured cancer treatments, we know first-hand how important it is to have treatment options close to home,” said Pignato. “We are so proud to have been able to raise enough funds these past ten years to support on-island cancer care and bring local residents and seasonal residents the peace of mind to know they can be taken care of locally, while still receiving gold-standard care.”
To learn more about Swim Across America Nantucket Open Water Swim or to register to swim, volunteer or donate for the July 23 and 24 open water swim, visit swimacrossamerica.org/nantucket.

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